Two tall, bearded white men moved cautiously through the jungle from thei_amp beside a wide river. They were Carl Jenssen and Sven Malbihn, but littl_ltered in appearance since the day, years before, that they and their safar_ad been so badly frightened by Korak and Akut as the former sought haven wit_hem. Every year had they come into the jungle to trade with the natives, o_o rob them; to hunt and trap; or to guide other white men in the land the_new so well. Always since their experience with The Sheik had they operate_t a safe distance from his territory.
Now they were closer to his village than they had been for years, yet saf_nough from discovery owing to the uninhabited nature of the intervenin_ungle and the fear and enmity of Kovudoo's people for The Sheik, who, in tim_ast, had raided and all but exterminated the tribe.
This year they had come to trap live specimens for a European zoologica_arden, and today they were approaching a trap which they had set in the hop_f capturing a specimen of the large baboons that frequented the neighborhood.
As they approached the trap they became aware from the noises emanating fro_ts vicinity that their efforts had been crowned with success. The barking an_creaming of hundreds of baboons could mean naught else than that one or mor_f their number had fallen a victim to the allurements of the bait.
The extreme caution of the two men was prompted by former experiences with th_ntelligent and doglike creatures with which they had to deal. More than on_rapper has lost his life in battle with enraged baboons who will hesitate t_ttack nothing upon one occasion, while upon another a single gun shot wil_isperse hundreds of them.
Heretofore the Swedes had always watched near-by their trap, for as a rul_nly the stronger bulls are thus caught, since in their greediness the_revent the weaker from approaching the covered bait, and when once within th_rdinary rude trap woven on the spot of interlaced branches they are able, with the aid of their friends upon the outside, to demolish their prison an_scape. But in this instance the trappers had utilized a special steel cag_hich could withstand all the strength and cunning of a baboon. It was onl_ecessary, therefore, to drive away the herd which they knew were surroundin_he prison and wait for their boys who were even now following them to th_rap.
As they came within sight of the spot they found conditions precisely as the_ad expected. A large male was battering frantically against the steel wire_f the cage that held him captive. Upon the outside several hundred othe_aboons were tearing and tugging in his aid, and all were roaring an_abbering and barking at the top of their lungs.
But what neither the Swedes nor the baboons saw was the half-naked figure of _outh hidden in the foliage of a nearby tree. He had come upon the scene a_lmost the same instant as Jenssen and Malbihn, and was watching th_ctivities of the baboons with every mark of interest.
Korak's relations with the baboons had never been over friendly. A species o_rmed toleration had marked their occasional meetings. The baboons and Aku_ad walked stiff legged and growling past one another, while Korak ha_aintained a bared fang neutrality. So now he was not greatly disturbed by th_redicament of their king. Curiosity prompted him to tarry a moment, and i_hat moment his quick eyes caught the unfamiliar coloration of the clothing o_he two Swedes behind a bush not far from him. Now he was all alertness. Wh_ere these interlopers? What was their business in the jungle of the Mangani?
Korak slunk noiselessly around them to a point where he might get their scen_s well as a better view of them, and scarce had he done so when he recognize_hem—they were the men who had fired upon him years before. His eyes blazed.
He could feel the hairs upon his scalp stiffen at the roots. He watched the_ith the intentness of a panther about to spring upon its prey.
He saw them rise and, shouting, attempt to frighten away the baboons as the_pproached the cage. Then one of them raised his rifle and fired into th_idst of the surprised and angry herd. For an instant Korak thought that th_aboons were about to charge, but two more shots from the rifles of the whit_en sent them scampering into the trees. Then the two Europeans advanced upo_he cage. Korak thought that they were going to kill the king. He care_othing for the king but he cared less for the two white men. The king ha_ever attempted to kill him— the white men had. The king was a denizen of hi_wn beloved jungle—the white men were aliens. His loyalty therefore was to th_aboon against the human. He could speak the language of the baboon—it wa_dentical to that of the great apes. Across the clearing he saw the jabberin_orde watching.
Raising his voice he shouted to them. The white men turned at the sound o_his new factor behind them. They thought it was another baboon that ha_ircled them; but though they searched the trees with their eyes they sa_othing of the now silent figure hidden by the foliage. Again Korak shouted.
"I am The Killer," he cried. "These men are my enemies and yours. I will hel_ou free your king. Run out upon the strangers when you see me do so, an_ogether we will drive them away and free your king."
And from the baboons came a great chorus: "We will do what you say, Korak."
Dropping from his tree Korak ran toward the two Swedes, and at the sam_nstant three hundred baboons followed his example. At sight of the strang_pparition of the half-naked white warrior rushing upon them with uplifte_pear Jenssen and Malbihn raised their rifles and fired at Korak; but in th_xcitement both missed and a moment later the baboons were upon them. No_heir only hope of safety lay in escape, and dodging here and there, fightin_ff the great beasts that leaped upon their backs, they ran into the jungle.
Even then they would have died but for the coming of their men whom they met _ouple of hundred yards from the cage.
Once the white men had turned in flight Korak gave them no further attention, turning instead to the imprisoned baboon. The fastenings of the door that ha_luded the mental powers of the baboons, yielded their secret immediately t_he human intelligence of The Killer, and a moment later the king baboo_tepped forth to liberty. He wasted no breath in thanks to Korak, nor did th_oung man expect thanks. He knew that none of the baboons would ever forge_is service, though as a matter of fact he did not care if they did. What h_ad done had been prompted by a desire to be revenged upon the two white men.
The baboons could never be of service to him. Now they were racing in th_irection of the battle that was being waged between their fellows and th_ollowers of the two Swedes, and as the din of battle subsided in th_istance, Korak turned and resumed his journey toward the village of Kovudoo.
On the way he came upon a herd of elephants standing in an open forest glade.
Here the trees were too far apart to permit Korak to travel through th_ranches—a trail he much preferred not only because of its freedom from dens_nderbrush and the wider field of vision it gave him but from pride in hi_rboreal ability. It was exhilarating to swing from tree to tree; to test th_rowess of his mighty muscles; to reap the pleasurable fruits of his hard wo_gility. Korak joyed in the thrills of the highflung upper terraces of th_reat forest, where, unhampered and unhindered, he might laugh down upon th_reat brutes who must keep forever to the darkness and the gloom of the must_oil.
But here, in this open glade where Tantor flapped his giant ears and swaye_is huge bulk from side to side, the ape-man must pass along the surface o_he ground—a pygmy amongst giants. A great bull raised his trunk to rattle _ow warning as he sensed the coming of an intruder. His weak eyes roved hithe_nd thither but it was his keen scent and acute hearing which first locate_he ape-man. The herd moved restlessly, prepared for fight, for the old bul_ad caught the scent of man.
"Peace, Tantor," called The Killer. "It is I, Korak, Tarmangani."
The bull lowered his trunk and the herd resumed their interrupted meditations.
Korak passed within a foot of the great bull. A sinuous trunk undulated towar_im, touching his brown hide in a half caress. Korak slapped the grea_houlder affectionately as he went by. For years he had been upon good term_ith Tantor and his people. Of all the jungle folk he loved best the might_achyderm—the most peaceful and at the same time the most terrible of the_ll. The gentle gazelle feared him not, yet Numa, lord of the jungle, gave hi_ wide berth. Among the younger bulls, the cows and the calves Korak wound hi_ay. Now and then another trunk would run out to touch him, and once a playfu_alf grasped his legs and upset him.
The afternoon was almost spent when Korak arrived at the village of Kovudoo.
There were many natives lolling in shady spots beside the conical huts o_eneath the branches of the several trees which had been left standing withi_he enclosure. Warriors were in evidence upon hand. It was not a good time fo_ lone enemy to prosecute a search through the village. Korak determined t_wait the coming of darkness. He was a match for many warriors; but he coul_ot, unaided, overcome an entire tribe—not even for his beloved Meriem. Whil_e waited among the branches and foliage of a near-by tree he searched th_illage constantly with his keen eyes, and twice he circled it, sniffing th_agrant breezes which puffed erratically from first one point of the compas_nd then another. Among the various stenches peculiar to a native village th_pe-man's sensitive nostrils were finally rewarded by cognizance of th_elicate aroma which marked the presence of her he sought. Meriem was there— in one of those huts! But which one he could not know without close_nvestigation, and so he waited, with the dogged patience of a beast of prey, until night had fallen.
The camp fires of the blacks dotted the gloom with little points of light, casting their feeble rays in tiny circles of luminosity that brought int_listening relief the naked bodies of those who lay or squatted about them. I_as then that Korak slid silently from the tree that had hidden him an_ropped lightly to the ground within the enclosure.
Keeping well in the shadows of the huts he commenced a systematic search o_he village—ears, eyes and nose constantly upon the alert for the firs_ntimation of the near presence of Meriem. His progress must of necessity b_low since not even the keen-eared curs of the savages must guess the presenc_f a stranger within the gates. How close he came to a detection on severa_ccasions The Killer well knew from the restless whining of several of them.
It was not until he reached the back of a hut at the head of the wide villag_treet that Korak caught again, plainly, the scent of Meriem. With nose clos_o the thatched wall Korak sniffed eagerly about the structure—tense an_alpitant as a hunting hound. Toward the front and the door he made his wa_hen once his nose had assured him that Meriem lay within; but as he rounde_he side and came within view of the entrance he saw a burly Negro armed wit_ long spear squatting at the portal of the girl's prison. The fellow's bac_as toward him, his figure outlined against the glow of cooking fires furthe_own the street. He was alone. The nearest of his fellows were beside a fir_ixty or seventy feet beyond. To enter the hut Korak must either silence th_entry or pass him unnoticed. The danger in the accomplishment of the forme_lternative lay in the practical certainty of alarming the warriors near b_nd bringing them and the balance of the village down upon him. To achieve th_atter appeared practically impossible. To you or me it would have bee_mpossible; but Korak, The Killer, was not as you or I.
There was a good twelve inches of space between the broad back of the blac_nd the frame of the doorway. Could Korak pass through behind the savag_arrior without detection? The light that fell upon the glistening ebony o_he sentry's black skin fell also upon the light brown of Korak's. Should on_f the many further down the street chance to look long in this direction the_ust surely note the tall, light-colored, moving figure; but Korak depende_pon their interest in their own gossip to hold their attention fast where i_lready lay, and upon the firelight near them to prevent them seeing to_lainly at a distance into the darkness at the village end where his work lay.
Flattened against the side of the hut, yet not arousing a single warnin_ustle from its dried thatching, The Killer came closer and closer to th_atcher. Now he was at his shoulder. Now he had wormed his sinuous way behin_im. He could feel the heat of the naked body against his knees. He could hea_he man breathe. He marveled that the dull-witted creature had not long sinc_een alarmed; but the fellow sat there as ignorant of the presence of anothe_s though that other had not existed.
Korak moved scarcely more than an inch at a time, then he would stan_otionless for a moment. Thus was he worming his way behind the guard when th_atter straightened up, opened his cavernous mouth in a wide yawn, an_tretched his arms above his head. Korak stood rigid as stone. Another ste_nd he would be within the hut. The black lowered his arms and relaxed. Behin_im was the frame work of the doorway. Often before had it supported hi_leepy head, and now he leaned back to enjoy the forbidden pleasure of a ca_ap.
But instead of the door frame his head and shoulders came in contact with th_arm flesh of a pair of living legs. The exclamation of surprise that almos_urst from his lips was throttled in his throat by steel-thewed fingers tha_losed about his windpipe with the suddenness of thought. The black struggle_o arise—to turn upon the creature that had seized him—to wriggle from it_old; but all to no purpose. As he had been held in a mighty vise of iron h_ould not move. He could not scream. Those awful fingers at his throat bu_losed more and more tightly. His eyes bulged from their sockets. His fac_urned an ashy blue. Presently he relaxed once more—this time in the fina_issolution from which there is no quickening. Korak propped the dead bod_gainst the door frame. There it sat, lifelike in the gloom. Then the ape-ma_urned and glided into the Stygian darkness of the hut's interior.
"Meriem!" he whispered.
"Korak! My Korak!" came an answering cry, subdued by fear of alarming he_aptors, and half stifled by a sob of joyful welcome.
The youth knelt and cut the bonds that held the girl's wrists and ankles. _oment later he had lifted her to her feet, and grasping her by the hand le_er towards the entrance. Outside the grim sentinel of death kept his grisl_igil. Sniffing at his dead feet whined a mangy native cur. At sight of th_wo emerging from the hut the beast gave an ugly snarl and an instant later a_t caught the scent of the strange white man it raised a series of excite_elps. Instantly the warriors at the near-by fire were attracted. They turne_heir heads in the direction of the commotion. It was impossible that the_hould fail to see the white skins of the fugitives.
Korak slunk quickly into the shadows at the hut's side, drawing Meriem wit_im; but he was too late. The blacks had seen enough to arouse thei_uspicions and a dozen of them were now running to investigate. The yappin_ur was still at Korak's heels leading the searchers unerringly in pursuit.
The youth struck viciously at the brute with his long spear; but, lon_ccustomed to dodging blows, the wily creature made a most uncertain target.
Other blacks had been alarmed by the running and shouting of their companion_nd now the entire population of the village was swarming up the street t_ssist in the search. Their first discovery was the dead body of the sentry, and a moment later one of the bravest of them had entered the hut an_iscovered the absence of the prisoner. These startling announcements fille_he blacks with a combination of terror and rage; but, seeing no foe i_vidence they were enabled to permit their rage to get the better of thei_error, and so the leaders, pushed on by those behind them, ran rapidly aroun_he hut in the direction of the yapping of the mangy cur. Here they found _ingle white warrior making away with their captive, and recognizing him a_he author of numerous raids and indignities and believing that they had hi_ornered and at a disadvantage, they charged savagely upon him.
Korak, seeing that they were discovered, lifted Meriem to his shoulders an_an for the tree which would give them egress from the village. He wa_andicapped in his flight by the weight of the girl whose legs would bu_carce bear her weight, to say nothing of maintaining her in rapid flight, fo_he tightly drawn bonds that had been about her ankles for so long had stoppe_irculation and partially paralyzed her extremities.
Had this not been the case the escape of the two would have been a feat o_ittle moment, since Meriem was scarcely a whit less agile than Korak, an_ully as much at home in the trees as he. But with the girl on his shoulde_orak could not both run and fight to advantage, and the result was tha_efore he had covered half the distance to the tree a score of native cur_ttracted by the yelping of their mate and the yells and shouts of thei_asters had closed in upon the fleeing white man, snapping at his legs and a_ast succeeding in tripping him. As he went down the hyena-like brutes wer_pon him, and as he struggled to his feet the blacks closed in.
A couple of them seized the clawing, biting Meriem, and subdued her—a blo_pon the head was sufficient. For the ape-man they found more drastic measure_ould be necessary.
Weighted down as he was by dogs and warriors he still managed to struggle t_is feet. To right and left he swung crushing blows to the faces of his huma_ntagonists—to the dogs he paid not the slightest attention other than t_eize the more persistent and wring their necks with a single quick movemen_f the wrist.
A knob stick aimed at him by an ebon Hercules he caught and wrested from hi_ntagonist, and then the blacks experienced to the full the possibilities fo_unishment that lay within those smooth flowing muscles beneath the velve_rown skin of the strange, white giant. He rushed among them with all th_orce and ferocity of a bull elephant gone mad. Hither and thither he charge_triking down the few who had the temerity to stand against him, and it wa_vident that unless a chance spear thrust brought him down he would rout th_ntire village and regain his prize. But old Kovudoo was not to be so easil_obbed of the ransom which the girl represented, and seeing that their attac_hich had up to now resulted in a series of individual combats with the whit_arrior, he called his tribesmen off, and forming them in a compact body abou_he girl and the two who watched over her bid them do nothing more than repe_he assaults of the ape-man.
Again and again Korak rushed against this human barricade bristling with spea_oints. Again and again he was repulsed, often with severe wounds to cautio_im to greater wariness. From head to foot he was red with his own blood, an_t last, weakening from the loss of it, he came to the bitter realization tha_lone he could do no more to succor his Meriem.
Presently an idea flashed through his brain. He called aloud to the girl. Sh_ad regained consciousness now and replied.
"Korak goes," he shouted; "but he will return and take you from the Gomangani.
Good-bye, my Meriem. Korak will come for you again."
"Good-bye!" cried the girl. "Meriem will look for you until you come."
Like a flash, and before they could know his intention or prevent him, Kora_heeled, raced across the village and with a single leap disappeared into th_oliage of the great tree that was his highroad to the village of Kovudoo. _hower of spears followed him, but their only harvest was a taunting laug_lung back from out the darkness of the jungle.